Death Benefits

Please read Philippians 1:18-26 in your own Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

We so typically think of death as an enemy (and biblically, it is) that it sounds strange to talk about “death benefits.”  When I went looking for a definition of death benefits, I was surprised to find out there is actually a website called “Investopedia.”  It seems Wikipedia has really started something and has imitators.  Anyway, Investopedia defines “death benefits” as “the amount on a life insurance policy, annuity or pension that is payable to the beneficiary when the insured or annuitant passes away. A death benefit may be a percentage of the annuitant’s pension. For example, a beneficiary might be entitled to 65% of the annuitant’s monthly pension at the time the annuitant passes away. Alternatively, a death benefit may be a large lump-sum payment from a life insurance policy. The size and structure of the payment in either a pension or a life insurance policy is determined by the type of contract held by the annuitant at the time of death. It is also known as ‘survivor benefit’.”
<Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/deathbenefit.asp on 10/06/17.>

So, once you can think of death as benefitting someone, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to think of death as benefitting YOU.  In this section of Philippians, Paul wrote about death as being a benefit to him, even something he desired.  Why might he think that?

When you read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, you get a summary account of all the things the Apostle Paul suffered as he was persecuted for his faith in Christ.  He’d been through a lot and this might be a partial answer to the question of why Paul was entertaining these thoughts.  You could understand if he welcomed death as a release from suffering, which it certainly is.

However, when you read this passage you see something more profound than relief being sought.  Paul viewed death as a means of realizing complete fellowship with Jesus Christ.  Paul was eager for heaven, but not as a place of escape.  He was eager for heaven as a relationship with his Savior in all its fullness.  We who share Paul’s faith must also share his hope.  Let us be encouraged to learn that death is an enemy, but not one to be feared.  Jesus defeated death.  For people of faith, death is the consummation of life; a better life lies beyond this one.  Also, God is with us in both death and life.

  1. Historical context: Paul was in a life & death situation.

Philippians is one of the last letters written by the Apostle Paul.  It is part of a group of letters written while he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial by the emperor, AD 61-62.

The events that lead to his imprisonment have been preserved by Luke in the book of Acts.

Paul had been arrested under false charges in Jerusalem, the victim of a plot against him by the Jewish religious leaders (see Acts 21-22).

He endured trials under two Roman officials and a king (see Acts 23-26) until it came to Paul’s attention that the Jewish leaders had plotted to kill him.  To save his life, Paul appealed directly to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

The last two chapters of Acts (27+28) record Paul’s journey to Rome.

Conditions in Rome were not good at all for Christians.  The ancient Roman historian Tacitus recorded some of the horrific persecution of Christians perpetrated at that time:

“Besides being put to death, the Christians were made to serve as objects of amusement. They were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs. Others were crucified. Others were set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display and was putting on a show and a circus where he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer and drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, for it was felt that they—the Christians—were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.

Nero was the very man to whom Paul had appealed.  History tells us that Nero condemned Paul to death by beheading.

All that to say this – when Paul wrote to the Philippians about life and death it was because both of them were very real possibilities at that moment.  This was not an academic discussion, but the wrestling of his soul.

  1. Jesus Christ is our reason to live.

In our world, people want to live for various reasons.

Death is an unknown; they fear it.

We dread separation from loved ones and/or have anxiety about how our loss with affect them.

The things of this world hold our attention and we hate to lose them.

Our ambition to achieve can be so great that we fear death will thwart or undo all our achievements.  (This is the “legacy” talk we hear too often.)

Some fear God’s wrath on their sins.

Truth be told, we more often fear dying than we fear death.  Dying is one of those transitional times we typically hate.  We don’t like the thought that dying may involve pain and/or loss of our customary quality of life.

In faith, we have only one reason to live: to be of service to Christ His people: TO LIVE IS CHRIST.  Paul recognized this fact among his deliberations. He foresaw FRUITFUL LABOR (v. 22) if he were to be released.  Isn’t this the part missing in too many of our churches?  He also promised, I WILL CONTINUE WITH ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR PROGRESS AND JOY IN THE FAITH (v. 25) if this imprisonment ended with his release.  We long to experience progress and joy in church life but are so easily thwarted by sin and self-centered folk.

However, life – especially the Christian life – it is not just sorrowful obligation.  As depressing as it may seem, Paul brackets this passage with expressions of joy.  In the beginning (v. 18), he wrote I WILL CONTINUE TO REJOICE.  What brought joy to Paul was the fact that the Good News was still going out; Jesus Christ was being preached.  Would that make you rejoice? Toward the end of the passage (v. 25) he wrote, YOUR JOY IN THE FAITH.  Of all people on earth, followers of Jesus have the best reasons to be joyful.  What a shame when we aren’t!

Discussing death does not have to be doleful and dreary.  Death gives meaning to life and it affirms the things that have been important to us in life.  Paul saw life as ministry and ministry as joy.  If anyone are not characterized by joy, something is wrong at the base of their spiritual life.

  1. Jesus Christ is our hope for life after death.

Paul’s “death benefit” as expressed in Philippians 1:21 is the most important: we will be with Christ.  Jesus Christ is the focus of our hope and being with Christ is the summary of all our hopes for afterlife.  In v. 19 Paul attributed his hope to the PRAYERS and PROVISION offered by that church.  Because the Philippian church prayed, Paul had hope.

Paul predicted the result would be his DELIVERANCE.  Is he talking about DELIVERANCE from Nero or going to heaven?  Why not both?  The text itself does not allow us to make a definitive choice of either, so hanging our hat on both actually makes good sense.

For example, the Greek word for DELIVERANCE has a variety of meanings, but most typically meant to be saved from dying.  It is used in a phrase that is a quote from JOB 13:16.  Perhaps Paul thought he would, like Job, be delivered from his trials and his faith vindicated.

The point is this: because of his faith, Paul believed he was in a “win-win” situation: if he was released from jail, he would win as he would continue to preach the Gospel.  If he was executed, then that was a win, because he was released from the troubles of this life.

Its clear to me that this passage, Paul struggled for a clear sense of which he wants to happen, or which he thinks will happen.  Note the way he described his thought processes.  YET WHAT SHALL I CHOOSE?  I DO NOT KNOW! (22)  I AM TORN BETWEEN THE TWO. (23)

He is certain of one thing: in his life or death he wanted Jesus to be EXALTED.  In either case, his fondest desire is to have SUFFICIENT COURAGE to remain faithful.  His imprisonment was one of many trials Paul had to endure; each one was a temptation to call it quits.  I guess you could say Paul saw benefit for himself and for the Gospel in his life or his death, so whichever one happened was incidental.

He resolved the struggle in vs. 25-26 where he expressed a confidence in his survival and even his release, resulting in continued ministry to them.  Historically, we know that’s not what happened.  He was a martyr for his faith.  He never saw the Philippian believers again in this life.

Was Paul wrong?  Did he display a false confidence to comfort the Philippians?  I doubt it.  Paul’s confidence lay in the truth, so even well-intentioned falsehood was out of the question.

This holds meaning for us as we have faith and pray: we want God to do specific things for us and we faithfully pray about them.  But sometimes God has a different plan and those prayers are answered with a “no.”  It’s tempting to abandon one’s faith in that moment and conclude God is not real or He doesn’t love us after all.

Paul had no such reaction.  It’s clear in this passage he was prepared for whatever time would reveal as God’s will.  Paul had his priorities in order.

“Death Benefits” are also promised elsewhere in the New Testament.  (My thanks to John Piper, who identified four additional reasons that inform us of the biblical scope of Paul’s assertion TO DIE IS GAIN.  In the following Bible quotes, the emphasis in italics is Piper’s.)  (See http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-is-great-gain-to-die.)

Our spirits will be made perfect.  Hebrews 12:22–23 = But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just which have been made perfect.

We will be relieved of the pain of this world. Revelation 21:4 = He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, f/t old order of things has passed away.

We will receive profound rest for our souls.  Revelation 6:9–11 = I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer.

We will experience a deep at-homeness.  2 Corinthians 5:8 = We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

I read a wonderfully illustrative story recently.  “A bank in Binghamton, New York, had some flowers sent to a competitor who had recently moved into a new building. There was a mix-up at the flower shop, and the card sent with the arrangement read, ‘With our deepest sympathy.’

“The florist, who was greatly embarrassed, apologized. But he was even more embarrassed when he realized that the card intended for the bank was attached to a floral arrangement sent to a funeral home in honor of a deceased person. That card read, ‘Congratulations on your new location!’

“A sentiment like that is appropriate for Christians, because they move to a wonderful new location when they die. They go to be with Christ, and the sorrows and heartaches of this earthly existence are gone forever. Near the end of his life, Paul said that to be with Christ is ‘far better’ than to remain on earth (Philippians 1:23).”

<Retrieved from http://www.preceptaustin.org/philippians_illustrations_1 on 10-06-17.>

The point of Paul’s message is not to minimize the impact death has.  It is devastating to be suddenly and completely cut off from our loved ones.  The loss is real and we need to be gracious about it, assisting people in their individual expressions of grief.

However – contrary to those who refuse to have faith – we know that death does NOT have the last word.  The word of God reveals to us the great and grand hope that death is a doorway that opens but once and leads us into the eternal presence of God.  Beyond that doorway awaits Jesus and all our loved ones who trusted Him with their lives.

God gave Paul these words to comfort him and his church.  He gives them to us as a living hope and a firm foundation for our faith.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

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Four Bear Ants

Please read Romans 14+15 in your go-to version of the Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.  (This is the third in a series of three posts.)

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

By the way, if you want an explanation of this post’s title, please repeat it aloud until you hear the word that’s really there.  Forbearance is the virtue of extending forgiveness in advance of an offense: it is essential for godly relationships.

This week an article posted on the Harvard Business Review website caught my eye.  The title of the article was “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.”  The author was Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States.  He served in that position from 2014 to 2017.

His point is that loneliness is more prevalent than we may realize and why it’s a problem.

“Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that t real number may well be higher.”

“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.”

“Loneliness is t feeling of having inadequate social connections. Why has this feeling increased over past decades? Partly because people are more geographically mobile and are thus more likely to be living apart from friends and family. Indeed, more people report living alone today than at any time since the census began collecting this data.”

(Retrieved from https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic on 09.27.17>)

After we’ve had a chance to complete our understanding of God’s teaching in RMS 14+15, we’ll revisit this article and adapt Dr. Murthy’s advice to businesses on how to help people with the problem of loneliness.

Let me make this simple.  God has two solutions to the problem of loneliness: family and the Church.  This fact makes it even more of a shame that we have so thoroughly messed-up BOTH these institutions.  The result is that loneliness is a problem growing in width and depth.

  1. God’s solution has many layers.

Our motive is love and in this order: God, others, self (14:15).  Given the culture we have, here’s an ethical principle our nation needs to hear and practice: your freedom (“rights”) NEVER trumps your responsibility to love.

The value of other people is NOT dependant on what YOU think of them; the value of other people depends on what God thinks of them.  V. 15 reminds us of what God thinks of them; they are SOMEONE FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED.

The standard is unity (14:7-9, 19-21; 15:5-6) as an expression of our commonly-held life.  14:7-9 explain why we are not in this alone: we’re part of a team, the winning team, as a matter of fact.  Let’s observe something important: you may feel alone sometimes, but you are never really alone (14:7).

The most important reason we’re never alone is that the Lord Jesus is always with us.  In life and in death He is with us and we BELONG to Him (14:8).

Jesus died on the cross to make this depth of relationship possible (14:9).  It is His action not yours; Jesus picked you first.  It’s GRACE, folks.

In 14:19-21 an important objective is set before us, a main reason to be church.  THEREFORE (14:19) alerts us that an application is coming; in this case three of them.

One, MAKE EVERY EFFORT means that unity is a greater priority than getting your way.  Sacrifice selfishness to succeed in spirituality!

Two, DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE requires us to choose our words and deeds carefully; to intentionally select things that cause PEACE.

Three, DO WHAT LEADS TO MUTUAL EDIFICATION means to choose things that will build others’ faith and confidence in the Lord.

The FOOD & DRINK in 14:20-21 are examples of non-issues that became issues because a weaker sibling in the family of God made them an issue. Maturity and freedom do not give anyone the right to purposely ignore the conscience of others or give offense.  Love trumps one’s rights.  If you truly love God and your neighbor, you’ll show it by being considerate.

The weaker sibling is someone who has genuine but wrong convictions.  This obviously does not include people who are choosing to be obnoxious, willful bullies, and hypocrites.  We don’t let them rule the day by pettiness.

Unity is not something we accomplish on our own strength; God provides it (15:5+6).  God gives us ENDURANCE and ENCOURAGEMENT; He gives us THE SAME MIND TOWARD EACH OTHER THAT CHRIST JESUS HAD (a sacrificial one).

These gifts are for the purpose of glorifying God the Father by having ONE MIND AND ONE VOICE.  Of course, having ONE MIND AND VOICE is not possible in our humanity; it is a gift from God.  God is glorified when we are in unity; He is not when we are in disunity.

Have your convictions but temper them by accepting others (14:1, 3, 5-6, 14-16, 22; 15:1-4, 7).  Accepting one another means two things.

One, do not quarrel at all & especially not over DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1).  Paul offered the choice of SACRED DAYS (14:5-6), and MEAT offered to idols (14:6) as examples of disputable matters.

Two, no matter which side of an issue you take, don’t TREAT anyone w/ CONTEMPT.  In Jesus, it is possible to be FULLY CONVINCED without being obnoxious.  The “secret” is that regardless of which side you take, you do it for the Lord, not self.  This will keep your pride from getting in the way of your better judgment.  Whatever your conviction is, redeem it from selfishness by  doing it with THANKS to God.  This orientation will take selfishness out of the equation, keeping our priorities in proper order.

Practicing what he preached, Paul accepted other believers (14:14-16).  His personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF.  But he didn’t go around forcing his belief on others.  Out of love, he was considerate and did all he could to avoid causing distress.

When you find yourself in a disagreement or argument, what is your first inclination?

– If you want to force your will and win at all costs, then know you are sinning. It’s serious.  You are destroying someone for who Christ died.

– If you want to give in and do anything to keep even a false peace, then know that you are sinning because you lack the courage of your convictions, even tho’ God gives strengthens us to do right.

– As usual, the best way is in the middle.  In this case, that means being careful to not do anything to offend sincere spiritual siblings.

A practical way to avoid this sin is to keep your opinions to yourself as Paul commanded in 14:22.  If you’re not asked for your opinions, don’t volunteer them.  Instead, do as Paul suggested and KEEP them BETWEEN YOURSELF AND GOD.  Do this and you will be BLESSED because you will avoid unnecessary conflicts and embarrassing yourself.

Those who think themselves STRONG will prove it by not living to PLEASE themselves (15:1-4).  This means bearing with the FAILINGS OF THE WEAK.  We don’t assert superiority – especially if it’s real – but in humility, love them.  This also means we aim to BUILD UP our neighbors in spiritual maturity by doing GOOD.

In this we have Jesus Himself as our example, as everything He did was aimed at helping others, not Himself.  He even suffers the INSULTS intended for us.  15:7 provides perspective; we are motivated to accept one another in the way God has accepted us IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.

The teaching of God’s word makes His will plain: we are to love one another.  The Scriptures help us to endure difficult people and toxic relationships graciously.  The Scriptures give us courage by giving us HOPE.  God is in charge; the truth will win out.

Another method is to keep your perspective broad by trusting God that He will get it right at the end (14:1, 13, 17-18; 15:8-14).  A lack of perspective makes DISPUTABLE MATTERS (14:1) feel like a matter of life and death, even when they aren’t.  Seeing things from God’s point of view reduces problems down to actual size.

The word THEREFORE in 14:13 introduces two more applications of this truth.  First, STOP PASSING JUDGMENT ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is a command to stop acting on your human nature.  We tend to show prejudice and bias because we’re too hateful or too lazy to get to know people individually.

Another tendency is to “demonize” people who dare to disagree with us.  We imagine them to be bad people because we’re unwilling to concede they may be right.

The second application is to not put a STUMBLING BLOCK or OBSTACLE in the way of another person.  Don’t make living a life of faith harder; make it easier.

When we see life from God’s perspective we don’t allow DISPUTABLE MATTERS to become divisive (14:17-18).  From His perspective, what matters is the KINGDOM OF GOD and it is made up of more important things that mere EATING and DRINKING.  People who make God’s perspective their own will succeed in PLEASING GOD and will ultimately win HUMAN APPROVAL.

This lengthy and essential section on righteous relationships concludes with the ultimate example of God bringing people together: God brought the Jews and Gentiles together (15:8-15).  The Jews were the people of God from the time he made them a nation at the exodus.  Everybody else is a GENTILE.

BUT – God has always been working to bring the Gentiles into the family of God.  In Old Testament times, this was accomplished by Gentiles converting to the Law.  Case in point; Jesus served the Jews to fulfill all God’s promises to the Jewish founding fathers, but by His death and resurrection, He broke down the DIVIDING WALL between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:14), creating one new people, the Church.  The Church is supposed to be God’s greatest achievement in bringing people together and just look at what we’ve done with it.  To prove this point Paul offered a series of OT quotes – all of them with the word GENTILE in them – to demonstrate God always intended all nations to be included among His people.

The passage concludes on a positive note, offering all these divine blessings: HOPE…ALL JOY AND PEACE…OVERFLOW WITH HOPE.  Paul also explained HOW we will come to these blessings.  Two means:

AS YOU TRUST IN HIM.  Interesting.  The more we trust God, the more accepting we are of each other.

BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.  The Holy Spirit is the power cable through which the divine energy of God is channeled to us.

Our days are pockmarked with bullet holes.  Nationalism and tribalism give rise to war and other kinds of conflicts around the world.  Have you seen the news and heard the rhetoric in the media and in government?  We seem to be more divided than ever as a nation.  The Church is divided into tens of thousands of splinter groups.  Individual churches see feud and splits over matters that are trivial.  Families are broken on a scale we would have thought unimaginable a generation ago.

We are in need of righteous relationships.  In Jesus Christ, believers have all we need to make righteous relationships a reality.  The only question is our willingness to believe, to sacrifice selfishness, and to enact the commands of God in the power of the Spirit.  Righteous relationships do not come easy, but they are worth it.

He Ain’t Heavy…

Please read Romans 14+15 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to research these remarks.

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

An umpire named Babe Pinelli once called Babe Ruth out on strikes. When the crowd booed with sharp disapproval at the call, the legendary Ruth turned to the umpire with disdain and said, “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.”

Suspecting that the umpire would erupt with anger, the coaches and players braced themselves for Ruth’s ejection. However, the cool headed Pinelli replied, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

Believers need to realize that God’s judgment is the only one that counts and resist the temptation to argue over disappointments and disagreements.

(Paul Fritz, Sermon Central, via http://www.family-times.net/illustration/Judgment/201427/ ).

Last week we learned the difference between the STRONG and WEAK believers.  We learned that neither type were to sit in judgment on one another, pronouncing perceived faults in one another’s faith.  As we will see today, Paul punctuated this preaching by essentially saying, “Look, we will all be judged, but it won’t be by any of YOU!”  God is our Judge and His judgment is all that really matters.  So, you’re entitled to your opinions; you are responsible to keep them to yourself.

What we’re trying to avoid here is rejection.  One of our greatest fears is that of being rejected by others.  Some of us try to avoid rejection by cutting ourselves off from others; we become “loners.”  Some of us try so hard to avoid giving reason for rejection that we become perfectionists.  Some of us retreat into addictions to try and fail to manage feelings of rejection.  These are all attempts at coping with rejection that result in failure and mental/emotional dysfunction.

As always, God offers us a better way; He calls us to a higher standard.  The best way to deal with rejection is to remove the threat entirely.  Our most important earthly relationships are those we have with our fellow believers.  The Church is to be a model community of relationships where rejection is never a danger because we are all seeking the godly virtue of acceptance instead.

REVIEW:

  1. The WEAK churched person is a legalist (2, 23).
  2. The STRONG churched person is a realist (2, 14).

NEW:

  1. The problem is rejection (14:4, 10-12).

The biblical word similar to the meaning of “rejection” is JUDGE.  We will unpack the meaning of the word first, then I’ll offer the word “reject” as an alternative that might be less confusing/more relevant to modern ears.

When Paul condemns “judging” what does he mean?

FIRST, notice that this teaching is directed at believers and their relationships.  In verse four Paul used a relationship typical in his day as an example.  He referred to one MASTER, but several SERVANTS.  Our MASTER is God; his other SERVANTS are other believers (14:4).  His point; just as it would be bad manners to interfere in someone else’s management of their SERVANTS, so it would be inappropriate to criticize other believers.  Paul makes the point even more obvious in 14:10; YOU, THEN, WHY DO YOU JUDGE YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER?

SECOND, we are not qualified to JUDGE one another, that’s God’s job.  He wrote, WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE SOMEONE ELSE’S SERVANT?  TO THEIR OWN MASTER SERVANTS STAND OR FALL. (14:4)  God alone decides who is saved and who is not; that decision is not ours to make.  None of us is “worthy” of salvation; all of us are beggars at the gates of heaven; we are all recipients of grace.  The extent of our judgment is our own imperfect discernment of right and wrong.  God knows everything and sees our inner person with perfect clarity; the same cannot be said of any of us.

Paul made three statements that show we are accountable to God, not to one another.  This theological fact makes it extra important that each believer minds his own business and refrains from being judgmental or a busybody.

One; WE WILL ALL STAND BEFORE GOD’S JUDGMENT SEAT (14:10).

Two, verse eleven quotes Isaiah 45:23, predicting Judgment Day when all people will bow before God to receive His just decision on their eternal outcome – heaven or hell.

Three; 14:12 states EACH OF US WILL GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF OURSELVES TO GOD.

THIRD, our judgment too often results in contempt of spiritual kindred, rejection of others, and sin.  Paul made this cause and effect relationship plain in 1 Corinthians 8:11-12 = SO THIS WEAK BROTHER OR SISTER, FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED, IS DESTROYED BY YOUR KNOWLEDGE.  WHEN YOU SIN AGAINST THEM IN THIS WAY AND WOUND THEIR WEAK CONSCIENCE, YOU SIN AGAINST CHRIST.

FOURTH, God’s promise is to make His people STAND on Judgment Day.

The Bible is consistent, but our use of the word JUDGE is not; it gets confusing.  The most frequently misinterpreted passage in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, where Jesus is quoted as saying, “DO NOT JUDGE, OR YOU TOO WILL BE JUDGED.”  This verse is misused because it has been co-opted by our culture in support of an attitude that only winks at sin and excuses immorality in the name of “tolerance.”

It is based on the rejection of absolute truth and any standard of morality except “let’s leave each other alone.”  In practicality, it means that no one is responsible or guilty; there is no threat of judgment.  People frequently preface a confession with the words, “Don’t judge me.”

We have learned that God’s standard for relationships is much more ambitious than what this world calls “tolerance;” God calls us to ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER (14:1 + 15:7).  Acceptance can be a virtue when it is based on God. God loved us and did not reject us, but gave us means (Jesus’ death on a cross) by which our relationship with Him could be restored.  He loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.  God is constantly calling us into personal growth and greater maturity.

When Paul calls us to ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, he is calling us to love one another in exactly the same way God has loved us; He accepted us into His family.  People who are in God’s family will ACCEPT other believers.  People who are judgmental betray their true allegiance.

To avoid the confused and tortured use of the word “judge” in our culture and to clarify what we mean, I suggest we use the word “reject” instead.  We have no fear of the morals of others, but we don’t want to be rejected by them.  We don’t want to be excluded or feel as if we’re being discriminated against.

Rejection is one of our deepest fears.  It drives us to make sorry compromises in our moral decisions and can keep us in toxic relationships.  Also, the virtue Paul names here is “acceptance.”  The vice, the opposite behavior, might be called “rejection.”

In 1988, quarterback Jeff Kemp was to start for the Seattle Seahawks against his old team, the San Fransisco 49ers. He entered the stadium brimming with excitement.

After the pregame meal, one of the coaches put his arm around Kemp and said, “I want you to know how happy I am that you are our quarterback. I’ve been waiting for this day.”  Kemp felt honored, valued, esteemed.

Kemp’s first pass of the game hit Hall of Famer Steve Largent right in the hands but he dropped the ball.  When everyone huddled up, Kemp moaned, “Steve, what’s the matter? You never drop the ball. Why are you doing this to me?”

After that, Largent didn’t make any mistakes but Kemp played the worst game of his life. At half-time the 49ers lead 28-0. Kemp later wrote, “Have you ever heard nearly sixty thousand people booing you? It’s quite an experience.”

He knew he might be benched for the second half.  He sought the coach who had been supportive before the game. Kemp approached him and began, “Coach—” he turned his back on Kemp without a word. Then he called to another quarterback, put his arm around him, discussing plays he would run in the second half.

Worse, that coach didn’t talk to Kemp for the rest of the game, even though we stood next to each other on the sidelines. For the next month, there was silence between them; complete rejection. That coach couldn’t deal with the fact that Kemp hadn’t helped the team succeed. He rejected Kemp relationally because his professional performance fell short.

(Jeff Kemp, “Rules to Live by on and off the Playing Field,” Imprimis, July, 1998, p. 3, retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/coach%E2%80%99s-rejection on 9/22/17.)

Obviously, this is NOT the kind of attitude being described here in Romans 14-15.  God calls us to a higher standard, a deeper love.  One that is based on acceptance, not performance.  He calls us to a love that is not centered on love of self, but love of God.

PREVIEW:

  1. The solution has many layers.

We Must Get Along… And More!

(Please read Romans 14:1-15:13 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

From the beginning of my ministry, even in seminary, I have numbered my messages as I wrote them.  I can’t tell you from where the idea came. When I realized last month that my 1600th message would be coming up, I resolved to do something a little different.  Not that there’s anything at all special about this particular number other than its roundness.

So I asked you to submit ideas for a message and then I randomly selected one of the responses and that’s how we ended up here at Romans 14+15.  This is obviously too much material to cover in one 20 minute message, so we’ll split it up over two Sundays, Lord willing.

Now that we know how we got here, let’s read a portion of our passage:

This is actually old news, but as I only heard about it last week, I’ve been interested and eager to share it with you.  Have you heard about the “9/11 Bible?”  When I read the headline I assumed it referred to some new kind of specialty Bible that had been recently published.

Not so!  This is the story of the discovery of an artifact at Ground Zero, the place where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed.  It is a Bible that was fused, by heat and pressure, to a portion of a steel beam that had framed one of the Twin Towers.

A firefighter discovered the artifact in March of 2002, months after the terrorist attack that brought the Towers down.  He recognized immediately what the find represented, he called to a nearby photographer to come and record the discovery.  Eventually the artifact became one of several discoveries that memorialize the events and people of 9/11.

What’s more interesting about the “9/11 Bible” is that the exposed pages of the Bible are open to Matthew’s Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount section.  Part of Jesus’ teaching on view on these pages – plainly legible – is “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Jesus is teaching us about the futility of revenge.  Hundreds of years after these words were spoken, in a spot hundreds of miles removed from the mountain on which they were spoken, the words delivered a timely rebuke of calls to avenge the deaths of the lives lost that way.

It is an amazing story and a great illustration of one of the important truths of the Bible; God calls His people to peace.  We are to be peace-makers and nothing else.  Division, conflict, and violence are often the result of sin and selfishness, a product of spiritual immaturity and biblical illiteracy.

  1. The WEAK churched person is a legalist (14:2, 23).

Food serves as an example of legalism (2).  A faith that is WEAK imposes limits and makes laws that everyone must follow.  It is a sign of weakness because that person can’t have convictions of their own; they must have partners or follow the crowd.  (“Misery loves company?”)  It is a sign of weakness because that person’s convictions can’t stand scrutiny; they don’t hold up under opposition.

Eating ONLY VEGETABLES is not a condemnation of vegetarianism (no matter h0w much you may want it to be).  Paul is writing about people who chose to eat vegetables only because of their religious convictions, not because of perceived dietary benefits.  Some people of faith in Paul’s time were so concerned about avoiding meat offered to idols that they ate only vegetables.  Also, Jews couldn’t be sure meat sold in the market was kosher; rather than take the chance it wasn’t, they ate ONLY VEGETABLES.  We might call this a “faith-based lifestyle choice.”

The WEAK person rejects their liberty in Christ, the freedom of grace.  They settle for avoiding evil but don’t attend to doing good. Both of these moral priorities are necessary for a full-featured faith.

God’s standard for moral behavior is simple: EVERYTHING THAT DOES NOT COME FROM FAITH IS SIN (23).  For example, legalism is rooted in self-centeredness, not God-centeredness.  Therefore it is sin.

To put it another way, “If you’re not sure, assume it’s not God.”  Observing this guideline will steer us clear of a lot of trouble.

How do we know whether or not something comes from faith?

Test #1 – It arises from and is confirmed by the plain teaching of the Bible.

Test #2 – It opposes the traditional teaching of the Church only rarely; when the tradition is in conflict with #1.

Test #3 – It is in harmony with the Holy Spirit.

Test #4 – It promotes unity in the Church and enacts love toward maturity.

  1. The STRONG churched person is a realist (14:2, 14 + 15:1).

Food is a place where realism can be exercised (2).  One of the issues in the Corinthian church was eating meat offered to idols.  The WEAK person saw it as spiritually contaminated and made eating it a moral issue.  The STRONG person did not approve of idolatry but saw meat simply as meat.  “Realism” does not deny the supernatural, but affirms it in ways that are consistent with FAITH.

Paul’s reference to UNCLEAN things (14) refutes legalists’ claims to be more biblical.  Paul’s personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF.  To conclude otherwise is to attempt to return to the Old Testament Law and use parts of it to support one’s personal biases (legalism).  Folks, God sorted all this out with Peter in Acts 10+11; what I call Peter’s vision of “meat on a sheet.”  Look it up for yourself!

However, Paul’s conviction was tempered by consideration for the people around him.  Out of respect for them, he would heed what they believed was unclean.  He did not force his view on anyone and expected others to do the same.

The kinds of things on which we typically disagree are DISPUTABLE MATTERS.  Paul may be thinking about moral and theological points that are of lesser importance and/or are more difficult to resolve to everyone’s agreement.  I heard recently there are currently 40,000 different groups calling themselves “Christians.”  Another person predicted more divisions; by 2025 there will be 55,000 Christian sects.  Why do we divide?  Because we’ve not learned to agree to disagree on DISPUTABLE MATTERS.  We are prone to “major on the minors.”

We can think of this phrase in terms of human nature: it is human nature to get mad about trivial things and be more forgiving on more important matters.  We can avoid a lot of division if we would overlook small matters.

Another quality of DISPUTABLE MATTERS is that agreement is not required.  We can agree to disagree without either one of us being untrue to Christ.

People who are STRONG in their faith will be more accepting, even of people who disagree with them.  Even when the WEAK refuse tolerate disagreement, the STRONG are to BEAR with them.  BEAR does NOT mean to growl at one another from our separate caves; it means to forgive and forget; to show patience and acceptance.

The STRONG can BEAR with the weak because they see things from God’s perspective and trust Him to work them out.  The STRONG are not out to please themselves but their neighbors (15:2), just as Jesus commanded.

The key word in this passage is “accept.”  In the NIV it is the first word in the passage: 14:1 = ACCEPT THE ONE WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK.  It comes up again in 15:7; ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, THEN, JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU, IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.  The idea of mutual acceptance is developed in the rest of the passage.

ACCEPT is the Greek word proslamban, which means “to receive kindly or hospitably” and “to treat with kindness.”  In a general sense, it is to “welcome” each other, receiving each other wholeheartedly.  Specifically, when we “proslamban” one another, we grant each other admission into our heart, looking beyond the merely superficial, striving to build relationships.”

The important phrase for understanding and practicing this command is JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU.   How did Christ accept us?   According to Romans 5:8 the Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We don’t follow Jesus’ example in the principle of self-sacrifice.  We must be so in love with God and each other that we are willing to make sacrifices in order for love to flourish.

  • I sacrifice my prejudice and stereotypes to welcome someone different from me.
  • I sacrifice petty things like my comfort, convenience, and choices so I can help someone in need. More than that, I want them to feel included in my family of faith.
  • I sacrifice some of the possessions, my time, my money, to support ministries that open doors to people who genuinely seek God.
  • I sacrifice my ego, pride, or self-centeredness to make my circle of friends a bit larger every day because I have served them, not myself.
  • I sacrifice the need to be right, to be the center of attention, to get my way all the time, in order to really hear the heart cries of people around me.
  • I sacrifice my private ambitions in order to grow our church, one person at a time.

Mad IS Hell

03a-angry-little-girl

(Image retrieved from http://sp.meucantinho.org/pictures-of/faces/angry/angry-faces-avatars.htm on 8/21/17.  Happy Eclipse Day, everyone!  Here’s a little gal who didn’t get to see the eclipse!)

Please read Matthew 5:21-26 in your Bible.  I mostly used the NIV for my research.  After paroxysms of hate that convulsed in Virginia and its aftermath throughout the world, I don’t think any explanation of WHY we need to study anger management would be required.

Jesus taught that anger can be murder on relationships.

Context (What’s going on in Matthew?)

This is the first of a series of six teachings Jesus introduces with the words “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” or some variation on that.  His purpose was to contrast the Old Covenant or agreement between God and humanity with the New Covenant He brought into being.  The New is, in each of these six cases, better than the old.  In this case, the New Covenant went beyond a mere legalism about murder to address the root cause: anger.  Jesus definitely raised the ethical standard.

Comment (What’s going on in these verses?)

  1. Anger is a dangerous emotion (vs. 21-22).

Our ethics of anger begins with affirming the sacredness of human life.  Jesus began this section by reminding them what the Old Covenant demanded – “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER’” (v. 21).

The word MURDER does not refer to all killing, but only to the taking of a life that is not first commanded by God.  Remember we’re talking about the Old Testament (OT) here.  In the OT, God occasionally called for wicked people to be killed.  Since God is perfect in His knowledge and judgment, we can trust that He only called for the death of those who were actually guilty and deserving.  No exceptions.

Remember also that human life is sacred to us because God said so.  We are under His commands in all things, including the taking and preserving of human life.  Because we have only lived under the New Covenant, we can be uncomfortable about Bible passages where God commands killing.  We have to remind ourselves that God commanded different things to His people under different covenants and get over it.

The phrase SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT refers to the penalty for murder as required by the Law: death by stoning.  For example:

– Genesis 9:6 ESV = Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

– Exodus 20:13 ESV = You shall not murder.

– Numbers 35:30-31 ESV = If anyone kills a person, the murder-er shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of 1 witness. You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.

Jesus then contrasted the old standard with the new: “BUT I TELL YOU THAT ANYONE WHO IS ANGRY…WILL BE SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT.”  MURDER is still a sin under the New Covenant, but the change is that anger is now understood to be just as much a sin.  We find it easy to condemn murder because we’re so rarely guilty of it.  But we are routinely guilty of getting angry and so that hits closer to home.

Because human life is sacred, anger is as serious a sin as murder (v. 22).  The sacredness of human life is a principle fundamental to all civilization.  Every nation and religion must begin here.  Building on that, Christians are guided by a secondary principle called “the preciousness of others.”

– God says all life as precious because it is His.

– All life should be taken only with the most serious and righteous reasons.

– But human life is especially precious for these reasons: of all the created beings, only humans were created in the image and likeness of God.  Only human beings were given dominion over creation.

When we observe these two principles, it is easy to see that hatred is as violent and as ungodly an act as murder.  In fact, MURDER is most often motivated by anger, isn’t it?

Jesus explained that God’s new ethic was of a higher standard by reminding His listeners of current ethical practices (v. 22).

Firstly, when someone called someone else RACA, they risked the penalty of the court.  This word meant “empty” and was considered an expression of contempt.  (This may be a similar usage to our referring to an unemotional or inhumane person representing a corporation or bureaucracy as an “empty suit.”)  It was considered an example of a slip of the tongue, something said in the heat of the moment, but not really meant to harm the person’s feelings or reputation.  The worst discipline they might experience is the embarrassment of a rebuke from the Sanhedrin, their religious court.

Secondly but worse, to call someone a FOOL put one in danger of hell-fire.  The Jews considered this a more serious offense, a deliberate attempt to hurt the other person’s feelings and/or reputation.  Instead of the court, this kind of angry act put the person directly under God’s condemnation with the much more serious consequence of being destroyed in hell-fire.  Giving vent to anger in this way assumes the offender is an unbeliever and still under the wrath of God.  That was the way Jewish theology trended.

Rather than split hairs in this way, Jesus simply condemned all angry acts, teaching they are just as ethically serious as murderous acts.  As reluctant as we are to commit murder, we ought to be equally reluctant to do anything motivated by anger.

  1. Conflicts need to be resolved as peaceably and as quickly as possible (vs. 23-26).

To impart a sense of urgency, Jesus gave two examples: worship and litigation.

WORSHIP (23-24).

Relationships are so important to God that He would rather have you interrupt your worship than leave it unresolved!  THINK ABOUT IT!  In this one instance, even your most important relationship – your relation-ship with God – will take a back seat to getting that angry conflict resolved.

There are two reasons for this.  One, no one can legitimately worship God while hating their brother. (See 1 John 3:11-15.)  Two, nursed grudges and/or a bevy of burned bridges betrays a lack of true faith.

LITIGATION (25-26).

The practicality of Jesus’ advice to SETTLE MATTERS QUICKLY ought to be obvious enough for all of us.  Jesus offered a sensible reason if an ethical reason hadn’t been good enough: it’s cheaper and easier to settle out of court than it is to battle it out in court and potentially LOSE.  Would you rather put your trust in man’s law or God’s grace?  If you are a believer, grace is always better.  In choosing grace over law, all parties may have to give up their “rights” and forgive the “slights” they’ve suffered in order to compromise, exchange forgiveness, and move forward.  The way of Jesus is the way of grace triumphing over the law.  This is just as true in relational matters, in conflict resolution, as it is in any other area of life.

This is not found in the text, but please indulge me in a personal theory.  Here is another practical reason for resolution: unresolved conflicts are the leading cause of emotional dysfunction.  If we want victory over depression, to manage our anger, or overcome a host of challenging mental and/or emotional conditions; resolving longstanding conflicts is a good place to begin.

How to attempt quick and peaceable resolution?  Here’s one method.

1) FIRST, stop what you’re doing and make reconciliation a priority.  Approach it with a loving heart and a gracious spirit, aimed at reconciliation.  (Motives that have anything to do with “getting even” or “teaching them a lesson” are doomed to fail.)

2) SECOND, plan the context of the reconciliation attempt.  Choose a date, time and place that is agreeable to both parties and will be free of distractions.  That includes allowing for plenty of time.  A personal, face-to-face is the standard unless that’s plainly impossible or majorly inconvenient.

3) THIRD, declare in plain language your intention to reconcile.  Saying out loud and meaning it are necessary.

4) FOURTH, state the other person’s position and feelings.  Correct each other gently and compromise until you arrive at a mutually understood and accepted definition of the problem.

5) FIFTH, give and receive forgiveness for the wrongs mutually recognized in the previous step.

6) SIXTH, compromise on a way to avoid this kind of misunderstanding in the future and provide ways to avoid giving this offense(s) again.  This should include ways to respectfully approach one another to voice future concerns.

7) SEVENTH, extend and receive forbearance, which is “forgiving in advance.”  Realize that as much as you are working to avoid it, future offenses are going to be made.  Everyone should stop taking themselves so seriously and forgive in advance.  Commit yourself to forget the past offense in a way that will not require you to suffer it again in the future.

There are as many ways to resolve conflicts as there are “experts” who write about conflict resolution.  What I’ve shared with you is a summary of what I’ve seen and learned and used in my life and ministry.

The method is not important.  What is important is that we move to resolve our differences in a way that relieves us of anger.  We talk about being as “mad as hell.”  Jesus taught that being mad IS hell; it is a sin that finds its origin in Satan and, if unresolved, may find its conclusion in him as well.

We show we take the sin of anger seriously when we act to resolve conflict situations.  We show we are followers of Jesus when we choose love and grace over anger and law.

Our Orders are Simple

Please read Matthew 22:34-40 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

label

(Retrieved from http://www.awesomeinventions.com/funny-product-instructions/ on 8/14/17.)

Here are some actual label instructions on consumer goods.  I find myself wondering how anyone thought these were necessary or wise.

On a bag of chips:
You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

On packaging for an iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.

On children’s cough medicine:
Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication.

On most brands of Christmas lights:
For indoor or outdoor use only.

On a child’s Superman costume:
Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.

On shin pads for cyclists:
Shin guards cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.

A parking lot sign:
Entrance only. Do not enter.

Rules on a elevated train track:
Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.

On a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle:
Some assembly required.

On a can of pepper spray used for self defense:
May irritate eyes.

On a TV remote:
Not Dishwasher safe.

On a mattress:
Do not attempt to swallow.

<Retrieved from http://funnytab.net/doomed on 8/10/17.>

Is it possible modern life is just too complicated?  Is it possible that common sense has become so uncommon we really do need these kinds of warnings?

For all our sakes, I want to take a few moments to take a look at Jesus’ version of a “life hack;” the way He simplified the commands of God.  Ten Commandments?  Still too many.  He got the whole matter down to TWO.  Just two commands to keep, and those who do reveal themselves to be His disciples.  This morning we’ll take a brief look at what these commands are and how they serve as our operating instructions for LIFE.

First, let’s note these commands are part of Jesus’ response to a misleading question (vs. 34-36).

Jesus is days from being killed.  He is in the city of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish faith, having entered it with a very public parade and a equally public confrontation in the temple. The religious authorities hate Him and He has racheted up the pressure with these tactics, forcing their hand, so they are trying to find something they can use to discredit Him in the eyes of the people.

Matthew 22 records a series of four encounters where these religious leaders tried to trap Jesus in His words.  Our passage is the third of the four.  In this case, they want to draw Jesus into a long-standing argument about which of God’s commands was the most important.  As this was something godly people had debated for years, they were hoping that Jesus would take a stand that would alienate at least half His listeners, as His answer would not agree with theirs.  They probably didn’t care what Jesus’ answer was, they just wanted him to say something they could use to irritate a percentage of His followers.

Their question was posed by a LAWYER and theologian in one (AN EXPERT IN THE LAW) – need I say any more?  While a theological question like this may sound innocent to our ears, these people lived in an entirely different culture.  In our culture, questions of Bible interpretation have not been a deciding factor in mainstream policy decisions since the Civil War.  But in this culture, these questions had a great influence on all parts of life.  The way a person answered this question guided economic, political, and moral decisions.

Second, let’s see what Jesus’ answer reveals about following God (vs. 37-40).

It reveals something about our priorities.

Jesus said THE FIRST AND GREATEST COMMANDMENT is to love God.  God comes first because of who He is; as our Creator and Savior, He is the most deserving object of our love. God comes first because He is the highest good.  We help others and ourselves more when His love is the foundation of our attitudes and actions.  God comes first because He shows us by Jesus’ example what love is.

He also said the second most important command is to love our NEIGHBOR as we love ourselves.  Love for NEIGHBOR takes priority over love for self but does not eliminate it.  We are to be unselfish but we are not called to be anyone’s doormat.  Love for self is included.  Hatred of self leads to all kinds of disabilities and problems.  Yes, the Bible calls us to self-denial and self-control, but that’s to eliminate selfishness, not self-preservation or self-love.

The point is, we can’t really love God or anybody else without loving ourselves too.  It’s a matter of keeping our priorities in proper order.  There is a place for self-love and it is third place.

Life gets messed up and we fall into sin when we get these priorities out of order. Too often, we have it exactly backwards; we put self first, then others, then God – if we think about Him at all.

Jesus’ teaching reveals something about the nature of love.  Our LOVE is to be all-encompassing; WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. Our most common mistake is we love with only part of who we are.  We think it’s OK to give our SOUL to Jesus, but we want to reserve our MIND for science, and our HEART for worldly things we enjoy.  The Bible repeatedly tells us that a partial commitment is really no commitment at all.  Love is not real until it involves all of who we are; no reservations.

LOVE is also “all-encompassing” in the sense that is the motive for all good actions.  This is what Jesus meant when He said in v. 40, “ALL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS HANG ON THESE TWO COMMANDMENTS.”  Or, to put it another way, “Love is the heart of what God wants from us.  The rest of the Bible is commentary on how to love.”

Our LOVE for each other is shown by taking care of others like we care for self.  Few of us are completely selfish; most of us care to some degree about the welfare and opinions of others.  (Completely selfish people might be called “sociopaths.”  Experts tell us only 1% of the population are currently in that fix.)  Though some of us take better care of ourselves than others, most of us do what we can to be healthy and happy.  Jesus is telling us that’s a rough guide on how to love others.

This is Jesus restating the Golden Rule; “Do to others what you want others to do for you.”  He is telling us the standard of care for our neighbor is the kind of care we normally require for ourselves.  We are to stop being selfish and treat others with the same care and respect we’d treat ourselves.

From Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) we understand Jesus defined “neighbor” as everyone nearby and in need.  In short, our “neighbor” is everyone else.

There’s an enormous amount of biblical material on this subject, but for our purposes, we can characterize the nature of love by the objects of our love.

Love for God is obedience.

Love for each other is unselfish service.

Let’s Stick with God’s Simplified Instructions

“A preacher was speaking about all the things money can’t buy. ‘Money can’t buy happiness, it can’t buy laughter and money can’t buy love’ he told the congregation.

Driving his point home he said, ‘What would you do if I offered you $1,000 not to love your mother and father?’

“A hush fell over the congregation. Finally a small voice near the front, raised an important question, ‘How much would you give me not to love my big sister?’”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-great-commandment-steve-greene-sermon-on-christian-love-87624 on 8/11/17.>

There you go.  Even with good intentions, the preacher complicated this matter of who to love and how to love.

God is so good to us.  In this passage, Jesus made love as simple and as accessible as possible.  Why complicate anything in this life, but especially something as essential as love?

The answer to that question is, of course, that when complicate something we most often have some ulterior motive: we have something to sell or something to hide.  We’re trying to fool ourselves or somebody else.

This kind of love is not just words or sentiment, it is words and sentiment manifest in action.  It is making a sacrifice in order to meet a need, be a friend, redeem our time.  The kinds of sacrifices love may require include:

Time,

Money,

Getting outside our comfort zone,

Forgiving,

Associating with unlovable people,

Changing,

Being inconvenienced.

What we get in return is greater than our sacrifice.  God loves a lover.  Be that lover.

Which D.Q. for You?

Please read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Once in a while a fictional story draws an exceptionally accurate picture of life and you’re pleasantly surprised to learn something and be entertained.  I had that experience recently reading James S.A. Corey’s book Babylon’s Ashes.  Early in the novel he wrote,

“All through human history, being a moral person and not being pulled into the dramatics and misbehavior of others has caused intelligent people grief.” (p. 88)

The rest of the story went on to prove this point.

Lesson learned: the “dramatics and misbehavior of others” can lead us into grief just as much as our own “dramatics and misbehavior.”  My opinion is that life inflicts enough drama, we don’t need to go around creating more for ourselves or others.

I’d better explain this message’s title.  When we think about ice cream, many of us think about “D.Q.” or “Dairy Queen.”  I saw a t-shirt once that co-opted the Dairy Queen logo but used the letters to refer to “Drama Queen!”

DQ

So my question is, which kind of D.Q. do you prefer?  One’s sweet, the other is sour.  Be careful how you answer, lest your life disprove what you claim.

In spite of the feminine noun, a drama queen is anyone – male or female – who acts in an overly-emotional way.  They habitually blow things out of proportion, brewing a “tempest in a teapot.”

The very best demonstration of a drama queen is a Dutch TV commercial made about seven years ago.  It begins with mom driving her daughter to school.  Maybe the little girl is moping because she doesn’t want to go to school that day.

A policeman’s lights and siren interrupted the mother’s lecture why the she must go to school.  After she pulled over, the policeman said she was speeding and instructed the mom to get out her license and registration.

As mom pokes through her purse, the policeman notices the girl in the back seat and says, “Mom is in a hurry today, isn’t she?”

The somber little girl quietly replied, “She’s not my mother,” and held up a note she scribbled on her pad of paper which read “HELP!”

drama queen

That is a drama queen.  Regardless of their motivation, drama queens cause a lot of problems at home, work, and church.  They leave behind them a lot of burned bridges and create an area of negativity all around them as they careen through life, feeding on the unhappiness they cause.

Not surprisingly, God does not want us to be a drama queen.  Instead, He calls us to a QUIET LIFE.  We will see this morning God’s way to building healthy relationships.

First, let’s note the context of this passage: Paul explained every disciple’s primary ambition is to please God.  He Paul offered three steps to achieve this ambition.

First Step = Remember your INSTRUCTIONS (1+2).

INSTRUCTIONS in this case being the commands of Jesus Christ to love God first, others second, self last.  This is part of the Gospel that Paul had given them, the foundation of their church and life in Christ.  As there is always room for improvement, he urged them to follow those INSTRUCTIONS MORE AND MORE.

Second Step: Love God by being holy (3-8).

In people and objects, holiness means to be set apart to God, exclusively working to fulfill His purpose.  In people, holiness also means moral purity.  That’s why Paul urged them to practice self-control.  Disciples of Jesus are distinguished from the world by their HOLY and HONORABLE behavior.

Third Step = Love others by avoiding drama (9-12).

God teaches His children how to LOVE EACH OTHER (9-10).  Paul encourages them first, congratulating them on their love.  The love these church folk had for one another was known throughout MACEDONIA.

Though he didn’t NEED to write them about their love, as any good teacher would, that’s exactly what Paul did.  For, just as he said in v. 1, Paul repeated in v. 10, to love MORE AND MORE.  I know we can get tired of hearing that; the call to improvement can become exhausting and discouraging.  But, as Paul observed in v. 8, God gives us HIS HOLY SPIRIT, so we get the power to love from Him; we don’t rely on our own strength.

God keeps calling us to growth in Christ, to become MORE AND MORE like Him.  One benefit of making this our priority is that we keep praying, keep relying on God, keep turning back to Him for strengthening.  Besides, this is the definition of ambition, isn’t it?  Ambitious people never quit, are never satisfied, and are always looking to do more or better?

God’s children enact love in their ambition to LEAD A QUIET LIFE (11-12).  It sounds strange to combine the words AMBITION and QUIET, doesn’t it?  Most of us experience ambitious people as loud or bossy, drawing attention to their self.  How do these words work together?

In general, A QUIET LIFE means an end to “drama.”  Life creates enough drama to satisfy a reasonable person.  It makes no sense to go around creating more strained relationships and negative emotions.  Godly people seek a QUIET LIFE to please God and find out that it is also pleasing to others and themselves.

Paul offers two specifics of what a QUIET LIFE involves.  One, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.  Being a “busybody” is identified in the Bible as a sin.  A busybody is not someone with a high energy level or a hard worker; this is someone who involves themselves in other people’s lives without permission.  No matter how we may rationalize it, offering unsolicited advice or comments of any kind is to be guilty of the sin of being a busybody.  God has identified this as a sin because busybodies have a negative effect on relationships and organizations.  Their intrusive and negative spirit makes everyone nervous around them and discourages creativity and/or risk-taking; all behaviors that might be good and necessary but are contrary to the busybody’s sense of the way things should be.

Two, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS.  One cure for busybodies is for them to MIND their OWN BUSINESS, as we’ve seen.  Another cure is to WORK WITH their HANDS because busybodies tend to be idle people.  This must’ve really been a problem in Thessalonica, because Paul addressed this issue again in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12:

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.

I’ve heard church folk eagerly cite this verse as evidence against government welfare programs and flatly ignore the gossip and complaining they do as busybodies.  WORK WITH YOUR HANDS is a figure of speech for “honest labor.”  This is a cure for busybodies because instead of wasting their time and energy on negative incursions into other people’s business, they fruitfully expend themselves on doing good.

Working together is good for a church.  The old maxim is still true: “Votes divide, service unites.”  Churches that work together build up their unity.  Honest work is a way we can serve God and others and it prohibits us making convenient but sinful distinctions between our “work life” and “church life.”  That’s hypocrisy, bud.

There are two aims with respect to the QUIET LIFE, two good reasons to make it our AMBITION.  One, to WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS.  A frequently-used excuse for not being involved in church is that churches are “full of hypocrites.”  There are snappy comebacks and reasonable responses to this excuse, but the most convincing reply is church folk earning the RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS by NOT being hypocrites.

We WIN RESPECT by having integrity; not just making claims of godliness, but by living in godliness.  Some people call this a “Silent Witness” or “Lifestyle Evangelism,” but to Paul, these were simply ways that all disciples were to live.  It is an important benefit to Christ-like living.

Two, to NOT BE DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY.  A secondary benefit to working with one’s hands is independence.  If you can provide for yourself, do so.  If you can’t, then don’t.   Being independent is not getting your own way as it is earning your own way.  Dependency has some negative social effects and God gave Paul the wisdom to see that capable people should be independent as long as they are capable.

This is Paul being practical but also Paul dealing with the culture of the Greek world of that time.  Greeks thought of physical labor as demeaning, while Jews had a strong work ethic they’d received from God.  Paul did not just teach this, he lived it.  Earlier in this letter he wrote;

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.               (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Laziness might be described as a lack of ambition.  So we understand two problems related to ambition in this passage.  Ambition for anything outside of God’s will is sin.  A lack of ambition is also sin.

God’s people are to behave in ways that are clearly more moral than people who are stuck on themselves, or in the world.  This passage is one of many in the Bible that sets God’s standard before us and then calls us to live accordingly.

This means deposing drama queens.  It means having as a goal for self first, then at home, in church, and in the community, a practice of life that drains the drama.  Here are some simple suggestions as to how you can do that.  I call them “Bumper Sticker Proverbs;” short, sweet, and hopefully, memorable.

#1 –No criticisms without compliments.  If you must complain or criticize, do not do so without making a genuine compliment before or after.

#2 – No advice without permission.  Unsolicited advice is detrimental to every kind of relationship in every context.  Ask first, and respect a “no” reply.

#3 – Nip negativity, push positivity.  Even if this requires a personality makeover, the peace achieved through positivity makes it worth all effort.

#4 – Pray before you say.  Ask God to set a guard at your lips and take away whatever is hurtful.

#5 – Tone down the teasing.  This is my worst thing.  A little bit goes a long way, even if the teasing is directed at yourself.  Humor with a cutting edge is a drama queen’s tool.

#6 – Follow your guide.  Asking yourself if your reaction is something Jesus would do is a handy way to both slow down our reaction time and eliminate sinful reactions.  Follow His example in word and deed.

#7 – Get in your time machine.  Before you react in any way, take a moment to imagine how important this matter will be in a year or 10 years.  A bigger perspective helps us avoid pettiness.